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2018 UCLA Football Fall Preview: Special Teams Will Be Strong for the Bruins

Special Teams were more consistent last season and should prove to be strong point for this year’s team.

NCAA Football: California at UCLA Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

In our Fall Special Team Preview last year, I wrote that special teams needed to be more consistent.

I thought they would be because both JJ Molson and Stefan Flintoft had an additional year of experience under their belt.

Well, fast-forwarding to now, it looks like Special Teams should be a big strength on this year’s team.

Both Molson, a junior, and Flintoft, a redshirt senior, are back for another season and big things are expected from them. Molson has been named to the Lou Groza Award watch list that’s presented to the nation’s best kicker while Flintoft made the Ray Guy Award watch list that is awarded to the nation’s best punter.

Molson proved to be very consistent last season. He improved his accuracy to 80% compared to 60% his freshman year. Overall, he made all but four attempts. That’s half of what he missed the year before. Molson was nearly automatic from 30 to 39 yards, where he made 10 of 11 attempts.

It’s possible that he may see fewer attempts this season as Chip Kelly has had a bigger tendency to go for it on fourth down, but that just makes his improved accuracy all the more important.

Flintoft won the punting job in Fall Camp last season, beating out Austin Kent, who has left the program. That doesn’t mean that the Bruins,have no depth at punter.

In fact, when you have a guy who was as solid as Flintoft was last year, having his brother as a backup would be ideal. Well, that’s not the case, but UCLA did add Colin Flintoft, Stefan’s cousin, to the team this year. Colin had been committed to UC Berkeley, but made a late switch to join his cousin in Westwood.

Of course, an important part of special teams isn’t just kicking. A good snap is vital on special teams and UCLA has one of the best there as well. Johnny Den Bleyker returns for another year. The junior from Fremont, California allowed UCLA to complete a special teams trifecta when he was named to the David Binn Award watch list earlier this summer. The David Binn Award will be awarded for the first time this year to the nation’s best long snapper. It is not a part of the NCFAA College Football Awards at this point so it was easy to miss the announcement.

But, that’s three Bruin specialists on three watch lists and it helps explain why UCLA’s special teams should be...well...special this season.

Let’s look at this year’s projected Special Teams depth chart.

UCLA Football Special Teams Projected Depth Chart

Kicker Punter Long Snapper Punt Returner Kick Returner
Kicker Punter Long Snapper Punt Returner Kick Returner
JJ Molson (Jr) Stefan Flintoft (RSr) Johnny Den Bleyker (Jr) Adarius Pickett (RSr) Darnay Holmes (So)
Andrew Strauch (RJr) Colin Flintoft (Fr) Koby Walsh (RSo) Damian Alloway (RSo) Mo Osling III (So)
Crawford Pierson (RSo) Alex Michaelsen (RFr)
Quentin Wallace (Fr)

Look for Darnay Holmes to be returning kickoffs again this season with Mo Osling joining him. This tandem accounted for 42 of UCLA’s 54 kickoff returns last season.

With Adarius Pickett back for another season, I expect him to again get the bulk of the team’s punt returns. Who will back him up there? That’s probably a crap shoot, but I think it will be a speedy reserve. Damian Alloway is one of a plethora of guys who could be called upon there.

That wraps up our look at the Special Teams as the Bruins head into Fall Camp. Stay tuned all week as we continue our UCLA Football Fall Preview.

Go Bruins!!!